Wow, oh wow. The 2016 opening weekend was one of the best tournament weekends in memory (recency bias is a thing, folks), and the closing stanza we got on Sunday night delivered above and beyond any reasonable expectations.
Here are the highlights from Sunday's games:
Northern Iowa snatching defeat from the jaws of victory
This game was an absolute gut-punch loss for anyone with rooting interests in Northern Iowa. The Aggies were down 69-57 when they took possession with 44.3 seconds left. At this point, any logical person had concluded that the game was over, and the teams would simply exchange perfunctory possessions to close out the game. Then this happened:
This is unreal... https://t.co/zorqJu083X— HoopMixtape (@HoopMixOnly) March 21, 2016
The Aggies scored 14 points in the final 33 seconds. To put Texas A&M's absurd run in perspective, Wisconsin scored 16 points in the ENTIRE FIRST HALF of their opening round game against Pitt. Somehow, both teams will be playing in the Sweet 16 (more on Wisconsin later). This was an epic collapse with no equal in the history of college basketball.
Here it is. 99.99%. This is an all-time sports collapse. Bar none. pic.twitter.com/A3f1iUlkXW— numberFire (@numberFire) March 21, 2016
Although UNI really has no one to blame but themselves for the loss (just being honest), I give the players a lot of credit for pushing this game to two overtime periods. UNI could have easily shut it down after regulation. Really, no one would have blamed them. To their everlasting credit, they tried to muster every last ounce of magic they had left to save their season, but just fell short. After the game, UNI coaches and players answered all the questions asked of them with class.
In a moment when I probably would've curled up into a ball and cried my eyes out, they faced the music. At least they'll always have Texas.
Bronson Koenig's buzzer beater
I'll be honest, I left Wisconsin for dead on January 12 after they lost to Northwestern, capping off a 3-game conference losing streak. The loss dropped them to 9-9 on the season, with some AWFUL non-conference home defeats to the likes of Western Illinois, Marquette, and UW-Milwaukee.
To make things worse, the Badgers had lost longtime head coach Bo Ryan in December, not to death, but to abandonment. 2015-2016 seemed like a transition year. And then all of a sudden it wasn't. Wisconsin closed out the season on an 11-2 run, with impressive victories over Michigan State, Maryland, Iowa, and Indiana. Despite a disappointing conference tournament loss to Nebraska (yikes), the Badgers had done enough to secure an at-large bid.
Wisconsin hasn't looked great in this tournament, but sometimes all it takes is a few moments of brilliance. Enter Bronson Koenig. Xavier and Wisconsin exchanged blows throughout much of Sunday's game, and with Nigel Hayes struggling to be a competent basketball player, it fell to Koenig to be the hero for the Badgers. Koenig went 6-12 from the 3pt line against Xavier, despite making only 5 three-pointers in his previous four games combined. His last three is the stuff of one shining moment legend.
Not only did Koenig's shot propel Wisconsin to their 5th Sweet 16 in the last 6 years, but it also gave us this video of Frank Kaminsky's reaction/celebration. Thank you, Bronson.
Dylan Flood (@imdtf24) March 21, 2016
Notre Dame breaks the hearts of Thomas Walkup lovers everywhere
Stephen F. Austin's upset of West Virginia got America's attention on Friday night. Probably because their best player, Thomas Walkup, looks like the living embodiment of their Lumberjack mascot.
Walkup and SFA looked like they were going to continue cutting a path to the Sweet 16 after taking a late lead over Notre Dame. Inexplicably, however, the Lumberjacks stopped running any semblance of an offense in their final 3 possessions as they were content to burn time and let Walkup throw up a tough shot at the end of the shot clock. This plan almost always backfires, and I hate when teams do this. It was no surprise then, that SFA's empty possessions set the stage for this:
Rex Pflueger picked a great time for his only basket. Elation for Notre Dame. Heartbreak for SFA. https://t.co/PkiOs8XaMY— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) March 20, 2016
Rex Pflueger had his only points of the game, and his 9th offensive rebound OF THE SEASON on that tip-in. That's a baaaddd man.
After the game, SFA coach Brad Underwood was understandably emotional as he came to the realization that he would no longer get to coach Thomas Walkup.
Oregon and St. Joe's played a tight game to close out Sunday's spectacular collection of drama. I would share some highlights from that game, but Oregon's jerseys are so garishly yellow that I'm concerned about blinding you folks. Thus, I will abstain.
Let's get the Sweet 16 started!